Croatia hopes to join EU ‘in 2012’

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Despite calls for it to join earlier, realistically Croatia’s EU accession in 2012 would still represent a great success, Mirko Galic, Croatia’s ambassador to France, told EURACTIV France in an exclusive interview.

“We must leave some time for negotiators to finish the process and to member states to ratify Croatia’s accession,” the diplomat said.

“National parliaments and member states should first ratify Croatia’s accession by legislative means or referenda,” Galic said, admitting that popular votes in some countries could delay Croatia’s accession.

Nevertheless, “the big come-back of Croatia to Europe is close,” he claimed.

Up to now, EU enlargements have always been ratified by parliaments. France had initially considered making future enlargements subject to compulsory referenda as part of a strategy to keep Turkey at bay. But a draft law was amended last year, allowing Croatia to join the bloc without having to pass such an obstacle (EURACTIV 03/04/08).

Asked about Turkey, the Croatian diplomat said that he did not know whether this “big country” would join the Union as a fully-fledged member, or within a “privileged partnership” as proposed by the French and German leaders. Ankara rejects any hints of replacing its accession with anything less (EURACTIV 08/10/09).

Galic underlined France’s role in Croatia’s journey towards the EU, from the Zagreb summit in 2000 to the visit of French Senate President Gérard Larcher in October this year. Croatia’s EU accession is “a priority for France,” Larcher said at the time.

Judiciary reform remains one of the outstanding issues before Croatia can join the EU. “All other former communist countries have the same problem,” Galic stressed. For example, judges may not always be politically neutral in Croatia, he said. “Justice should be independent and judges’ competencies should be reinforced,” he said. Galic also explained that the French magistrate school has set an example for his country (EURACTIV 05/10/09).

Concerning the Slovenia border issue, Galic admitted that relations with its neighbour have been more difficult since 2004, when Slovenia joined the EU. However, he believes that both governments have EU and US mediation to thank for finding a compromise (EURACTIV 04/11/09). “Let’s see if both parliaments accept this solution,” he said.

Turning to military cooperation, Galic stressed that Europe should develop its defence concept further. “If Europe wants to keep its military identity, Europe should keep good relations with the US and also create its own means of defence,” the ambassador said. “The Americans are always welcome in Europe,” Galic added, saying “NATO is a community of values and also a source of solidarity between members”. Croatia joined NATO in April 2009 (EURACTIV 03/04/09).

To read the full version of this interview in French, please click here.

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